Friday, 21 September 2012

Boredom for Fun and Profit

My friend sent my husband a message today (I don't have a cell phone) saying she had nothing to do and he should tell me to update my blog with something new for her to read. So here I am, just for you, Della. And I've been musing about the nature of boredom. I've heard it said that without boredom, there would be no progress, nothing to spur us to creativity. I suppose there's some truth to that; if you don't have some free time on your hands, you won't be able to explore new inventions or daydream and come up with new solutions. If you're so busy eking out a living that you don't have time to dream, you will experience your own Dark Ages as far as creativity goes. Susan Maushart says "The role of boredom in encouraging innovation and creativity is a critical one." She also says essentially that the discomfort of boredom is what jump-starts motivation, and that you need to have room in your world for staring into space.

I can see that side of it, and I've certainly spent my own share of time staring into space. I strongly believe everyone needs "down" time to rejuvenate and restore and rest their brains. And occasionally that blah-period will bring some fresh ideas to the surface. I have also found the opposite -- that the busier and more engaged I am in daily life, the more creative thoughts crowd into my head. Terrific writing ideas pop into my mind at the most inconvenient times when I am at my most busy (and of course have no time to stop and write). Activity stimulates further activity. Ideas create other ideas. If someone could harness my brain waves at those moments, they'd have a working perpetual motion machine, where the slightest nudge touches off a string of increasingly wild ideas building more and more energy. Sometimes a single thought will trigger all sorts of reactions and my thoughts go in all directions, like breaking a formation of billiard balls. At those times I feel like I must sit down and write to capture those ricocheting and interesting new thoughts or I'll burst. And if I don't take the time to do it, the tension continues to mount until I start getting snappish with total strangers, grow absentminded, become grouchy and short-tempered. I pace the subway platform muttering to myself like a mad woman. I try out dialogues and block out scenes while I'm driving. In short, the busy real world around me recedes more and more as the world of my mind's creating comes to the fore. The static only goes away when I finally put pen to paper (well, okay, when I start rattling the keyboard of my laptop. But "pen to paper" has better alliteration). It's like those people who don't experience REM sleep; you can only go without dreaming for so long before you start hallucinating while you're awake.

I have learned to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go. When an idea crowds itself into my head while I'm otherwise engaged, I whip out the notebook and jot a quick note. It's sort of like a release valve letting off the pressure so that it doesn't build to the bursting point. Of course, later when I look at my notebook, I can't decipher my writing, or I'm left facing such cryptic notes as "The Japanese Beekeeper" and "Name for Pita Place: No Bun Intended" and "Plant calendula" and "decorative futilities." What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Where was I going with it? Why did it seem suddenly vital to me to write it down? Then again, I can sometimes take those weird tidbits in my notebook and recreate the scene I had in my head when I wrote them down, and then I can run with it. I've written entire novels based on one or two words that triggered whole plots in my head.

David Grayson said "True literature, like happiness, is ever a by-product; it is the half-conscious expression of a man greatly engaged in some other undertaking...he is more profoundly, vividly interested in the activities of life and he tells about them...over his shoulder."

So if you agree with that sentiment, essentially you believe that creativity comes out of being busily involved in the other activities of life. That thought begets more thought, and energy leads to more energy. I am at my most productive and creative when I'm at my most busy in other parts of my life (which can be both exciting and frustrating). And yet I still agree with Susan Maushart that you need that daydreaming, quiet time and - beyond that - you need some boredom in order to stimulate you to action.

Of course, who am I to say? I've never been bored.

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